Taking stock after F1

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Steve Hallam spent a total of 27 years in Formula 1 – 10 years with Lotus and 17 with McLaren. He engineered Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet at Lotus, and ran Gerhard Berger, Senna, Michael Andretti and Mika Häkkinen’s cars at McLaren before becoming director of race operations. But Hallam decided last year would be his final season with the team. He determined to take on an entirely new challenge and has moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to work as director of competition for Michael Waltrip’s three-car Toyota NASCAR team.

The catalyst in attracting Hallam to NASCAR was Scotsman Pete Spence, who is technical director of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) in California. Spence worked with Hallam back in ’93 when he was in charge of Cosworth’s F1 engine programme. He went on to oversee the company’s CART engine programme, then joined Toyota and is now TRD’s chief engine man on its NASCAR effort.

Through his connections with Spence and TRD, Hallam joined Waltrip’s team near the end of last year.

“I don’t profess to fully understand this style of racing yet, but I’ve often reflected since I’ve been here that if the F1 guys came and looked at what’s going on and appreciated the actual energy of the racing, they would enjoy it,” says Hallam. “But you need to do at least a couple of races to start to understand how and why it works. Just to take a single race snapshot is not enough because it is remarkably deep in its complexity.”

Hallam has quickly learned that every oval track is different. “People in Europe tend to say, ‘Oh, it’s oval racing. All they do is turn left.’ Well, they need to come and try it. It’s not that simple, I can tell you.”

The high-banked (36 degrees) half-mile Bristol oval in north-eastern Tennessee has seriously impressed Hallam. “Daytona and Las Vegas were quite impressive but the race that really caught my eye was Bristol,” he recounts. “It was unbelievable! People in Europe have no idea that there are tracks like Bristol which will seat 160,000 people in an arena in the Appalachian Mountains. The place was just heaving, it was absolutely remarkable. People in Europe have no idea how good it can be. It was really very special to go and race there.”

Bristol was followed by Martinsville, another half-mile oval but with only 12-degree banking. Hallam describes the track as being, “like two dragstrips connected by two hairpin bends”. Brake wear is a serious issue, requiring customised carbon front brake ducts. “Dealing with this track it really felt like you were going to Montréal or Monza,” adds Hallam.

Next came the high-banked 1.5-mile Texas superspeedway, “Which is shatteringly quick! These cars hit 210mph going into turn one at Texas and the load on the tyres is phenomenal. The drivers get out of their cars after qualifying and they’re shaking. They are truly brave men.”

Waltrip’s three Toyotas are driven by the boss himself, Aussie Marcos Ambrose, who’s in his first Cup season, and David Reutimann, the son of legendary east coast short track racer ‘Buzzie’ Reutimann. “David is very strong everywhere at the moment,” says Hallam. “He’s quite a shy and self-deprecating person, but he’s shown great fortitude and strength. Marcos has been a revelation this year. He has matured and is running very strongly in the races.”

Hallam has wilfully fostered a much closer working relationship between Waltrip’s drivers and crews. “We treat our three cars as one team and people here weren’t quite sure how it was going to work, but that really has matured over the first part of this year. The drivers talk together in our debriefs and the crew chiefs debate their set-ups together. If one car is struggling, everyone works to get all three cars to deliver. We haven’t yet done that. We can get two up there but we haven’t got all three up there yet.”

Top NASCAR drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson work with their crew chiefs to get their cars handling best for conditions at the end of the race when it counts. “The drivers who are thinking are aware of what’s happening and of where they need to be in the last phase of the race,” says Hallam. “Pacing yourself and planning for that final phase, knowing what to do and when the crew chief has to have the car ready for the driver to deliver, knowing the driver can do it if you’ve got him positioned right and the car is correct – it’s a fascinating part of this style of racing. There’s still a lot for me to understand about how the crew chiefs adjust the car relative to the changing track conditions during a race.”

Crashing cars on ovals is a fact of life. On big tracks or little tracks, you’re surrounded by walls with 42 other cars. It’s a very crowded environment and accidents are often multi-car wrecks. “I would love some of the very good mechanics I worked with in Formula 1 to see what the NASCAR mechanics do to these cars to keep them alive,” says Hallam. “What these boys do is phenomenal. It is a bit brutal and sometimes it’s a bit unsubtle. But it’s like warfare out there. It’s ‘needs must’ because points are awarded all the way down the field and you need to keep your car alive.

“It’s not like in F1 where if you drop out of the top eight you don’t score any points, or if you go a lap or two laps down you’re never going to score any points. In this series you get your car back out there. You repair it. If they have to, they’ll drag the car back into the garage and weld something up, cut some bits in and patch it in some way. They have to do it now and quickly, and you better stand back!”

Then there’s the logistics of running 36 races with a dozen or more cars for each driver. “In some instances the transporters are here [at the team’s base] for only a few hours between events while they unload the previous race’s equipment and reload with the next race’s equipment,” explains Hallam. “Sometimes they don’t come back and we send additional transporters out with cars. The California-Vegas exchange, for example: the trucks went from California to Vegas and other trucks supplied the race cars for Vegas directly.

“Most teams own several aircraft that they move everyone around in. The pitcrews are flown in and out for each race. Without that you would grind everybody into the ground. If the teams had to fly commercially it would take so much time out of the day just to get to the track.”

Hallam is a little frustrated with watching F1 from afar this year as McLaren struggles both technically and politically. He recounts a recent e-mail exchange with long-time McLaren colleague Tyler Alexander, another veteran who quit the team at the end of last season.

“I said to Tyler, ‘Do you think we could have done anything to help if we had been there this year?’ And he said, ‘No. There are larger forces at work there.’ An element of me wishes I was there to help but there’s a larger part that says, ‘My God! I’m better off here.’ I’m now only an F1 spectator. My life is part of this relentless schedule of NASCAR and I am thoroughly enjoying it.”